After winning 17 games and finishing one game out of first place in the Chagrin Valley Conference Chagrin Division last season the Geneva Eagles are ready to take the next step.
“We have extremely high expectations this season,” said Geneva coach Jared Sziber. “We are bringing back the majority of our starting lineup and all of our major contributors on the mound and in the lineup from a team that won 17 games last season and finished one game behind Chagrin Falls for the conference championship.”
The Eagles return eight starters from the squad that finished the 2017 season 17-7 overall and 11-3 in league play and reached the Division II Jefferson District semifinals.
Geneva now has set its sights on winning a league title and making a deeper run in the postseason.
“Even though our district has changed a bit, losing Lake Catholic, Edgewood, and University School and gaining Chardon, Gilmour Academy, and Hawken, we fully intend on challenging for the CVC crown and winning our district.”
To do that, Geneva will lean on its pitching staff and defense.
“Pitching and defense will be our strength this year,” Sziber said. “We are bringing back our top three pitchers from last season and adding a few younger guys who had some success at the varsity level last year. On average, we only gave up just over three runs a game last year, and since we are bringing back the majority of our defense, it should lead to the same kind of success.”
The pitching staff includes senior Kaleb Smothers, junior Nick Stoltz, sophomore Vincent Varckette, senior Tyler Cerjan and junior Tyler Hartz.
Smothers, a four-year letterman, was named first team All-CVC, first team All-Ashtabula County, and honorable mention All-Ohio through the Prep Baseball Report after finishing 5-2 on the mound with a 1.5 earned run average and 53 strikeouts to just nine walks in 47 innings pitched.
“Kaleb is our workhorse on the mound and should continue to be one of the better pitchers in the area,” Sziber said. “He is an absolute bulldog on the mound and always gives us a chance to win regardless of who we play.”
Smothers, who is being recruited by Alfred State University, Illinois State and Owens Community College, also provides leadership on the field.
“His numbers are great but he brings more to the table than just great numbers,” Sziber said. “His mindset, aggressiveness and attitude really put confidence in our whole team when he pitches.”
Stoltz finished 3-0 with a 0.91 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 21 innings of work. He earned honorable mention All-CVC and second team All-Ashtabula County honors.
“Nick is a great athlete who helps us out in every aspect of the game,” Sziber said. “He is a stud on the mound and in the field. What is scary about Nick is that he has yet to reach his full potential on the field. Once he does it will be a sight to see.”
When he’s not pitching, Stoltz will patrol center field for the Eagles. He batted .300 last season with 10 stolen bases and 15 runs scored.
“Nick Stoltz is just a great overall player for us,” Sziber said. “He does it all really. He is not far behind Smothers in terms of pitching ability and brings a ton to our lineup and defense with his ability and athleticism. He keeps getting better each year and has shown no reason to doubt that he won’t continue that trend.”
Varckette finished his freshman season with a 2-0 record and a 1.4 ERA. He’ll slide over to third base when he’s not on the hill. Cerjan was 2-2 with a 3.5 ERA and Hartz will see his first varsity pitching action this spring.
Seniors Josh Skaverk and Mylan Kanicki round out the projected starters in the outfield. Skaverk will be in left and Kanicki, who batted .280 last season, will be in right.
The starters in the infield include senior catcher Oscar Varckette, who hit .315, senior Jacob Wilms and Cerjan at first base, junior Tyler Lindberg at second (.330, second team All-CVC) and senior Seth Scoville at shortstop.
Wilms, a second team All-CVC and All-Ashtabula County honoree, batted .315 with a .400 on-base percentage, one homer and 18 runs batted in.
The power-hitting lefty is being recruited by Ohio Northern University.
“Jacob Wilms is our thumper in the middle of the lineup,” Sziber said. “He has come a super long way from the time he was a freshman until now. He has always had some thunder in his bat but he has worked so hard over the years to tap into his ability and potential. He is never satisfied with his results and should have another good year for us.”
Scoville, who has committed to Wheeling Jesuit University, hit .300 on his way to being named second team All-Ashtabula County.
“Seth is a great defender at short and is one of the smartest high school baseball players I have coached,” Sziber said. “He knows the ins and outs about baseball and uses it to his advantage.”
While the Eagles will rely on their pitchers and defense to keep opposing hitters in check, Geneva is hopeful its offense will be more consistent than in the past.
“Hitting is an area that I wouldn’t necessarily call it a weakness, but more of the key to what kind of success we will have,” Sziber said. “We scored over five runs a game last season, but overall for the season, it was not as consistent we would have liked. If we can actually hit with the potential that we have all season, we should be in good shape to have some success overall. We have been putting a lot of focus on situational baseball while on offense and really understanding total team offense.”
Geneva has the talent and depth to achieve its goals this season but the Eagles have to take it one pitch at a time and not look too far ahead.
Last year’s success and the experience the team gained along the way should help the Eagles maneuver through a challenging schedule.
“The biggest difference between last year and this year’s team is the experience we gained from last year carrying over,” Sziber said. “Last year, we had some issues pop up during some real big games, but it was a lot of guys’ first taste at what those situations are like at the varsity level.”
The Eagles are scheduled to open the season on Saturday at Jefferson.